China spacecraft is returning to Earth with moon samples in a first for the country

  • A Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar samples has blasted off from the moon and is preparing to come back to earth.
  • It’s the first time China has launched a spacecraft from an extraterrestrial body and the first time it has collected moon samples.
  • If the moon samples make it back to earth, China will be only the third country to retrieve lunar samples after the efforts by the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.



a store front at night: The Long March 5 rocket carrying Chang'e 5 is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan. The 8.2-tonne Change 5 probe, which consists of a lander, an ascender, a service module and a return capsule, is the sixth mission of the Chinese lunar exploration programme Change. The goal of the mission is to collect lunar soil and rock samples from Oceanus Procellarum and bring them back to the Earth. If successful, Change 5 will be the first sample-return mission since the 1976.


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The Long March 5 rocket carrying Chang’e 5 is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan. The 8.2-tonne Change 5 probe, which consists of a lander, an ascender, a service module and a return capsule, is the sixth mission of the Chinese lunar exploration programme Change. The goal of the mission is to collect lunar soil and rock samples from Oceanus Procellarum and bring them back to the Earth. If successful, Change 5 will be the first sample-return mission since the 1976.

GUANGZHOU, China — A Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar samples has blasted off from the moon and is preparing to come back to Earth.

It’s the first time China has launched a spacecraft from an extraterrestrial body and the first time it has collected moon samples. If the moon samples make it back to Earth, China will be only the third country in the world to retrieve lunar samples after the efforts by the U.S. in the 1960s and the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

At 23:10 p.m. Beijing time on Thursday, the Chang’e-5 spacecraft took off from the moon, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The spacecraft was successfully launched into a pre-determined orbit around the moon.

The probe will meet with a return spacecraft to get back to Earth and is expected to land in China’s Inner Mongolia region around mid-December.

China has ramped up its space efforts in the last few years. President Xi Jinping urged the industry earlier this year to make China a “great space power as soon as possible,” according to state-backed China Daily. 

In June, China launched the final satellite to complete Beidou, its rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), which is widely used across the world. 

And in July, China also launched an ambitious mission to Mars called Tianwen -1.

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Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar rocks lifts off from moon

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This image taken by panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface after it landed on the moon on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Chinese government say the spacecraft landed on the moon on Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

A Chinese spacecraft lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported.


Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a orbiter and rover headed to Mars.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side. Its mission: collect about 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of lunar rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first return of samples since Soviet spacecraft did so in the 1970s. Earlier, the U.S. Apollo astronauts brought back hundreds of pounds of moon rocks.

The landing site is near a formation called the Mons Rumker and may contain rocks billions of years younger than those retrieved earlier.

The ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was due to rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit, then transfer the samples to a capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This artist’s rendering provided to China’s Xinhua News Agency on Aug. 23, 2016, by the lunar probe and space project center of Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, shows a concept design for the Chinese Mars 2020 rover and lander. China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and plans to put humans back on the lunar surface. (Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense via Xinhua via AP, File)

It wasn’t clear when the linkup would occur. After the transfer, the ascent module would be ejected and the capsule would remain in lunar orbit for about a week, awaiting the optimal time to make the trip back to Earth.

Chinese officials have said the sample capsule is due to land on Earth around the middle of the month. Touchdown is planned for the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s astronauts have made their return in Shenzhou spacecraft.

Chang’e 5’s lander, which remained on the moon, was capable of scooping samples from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet).

While retrieving samples was its main task, the lander also was equipped to extensively photograph the area, map conditions

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Voyager spacecraft detect new type of solar electron burst

Voyager spacecraft detect new type of solar electron burst
The Voyager spacecraft continue to make discoveries even as they travel through interstellar space. In a new study, University of Iowa physicists report on the Voyagers’ detection of cosmic ray electrons associated with eruptions from the sun–more than 14 billion miles away. Credit: NASA/JPL

More than 40 years since they launched, the Voyager spacecraft are still making discoveries.


In a new study, a team of physicists led by the University of Iowa report the first detection of bursts of cosmic ray electrons accelerated by shock waves originating from major eruptions on the sun. The detection, made by instruments onboard both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, occurred as the Voyagers continue their journey outward through interstellar space, thus making them the first craft to record this unique physics in the realm between stars.

These newly detected electron bursts are like an advanced guard accelerated along magnetic field lines in the interstellar medium; the electrons travel at nearly the speed of light, some 670 times faster than the shock waves that initially propelled them. The bursts were followed by plasma wave oscillations caused by lower-energy electrons arriving at the Voyagers’ instruments days later—and finally, in some cases, the shock wave itself as long as a month after that.

The shock waves emanated from coronal mass ejections, expulsions of hot gas and energy that move outward from the sun at about one million miles per hour. Even at those speeds, it takes more than a year for the shock waves to reach the Voyager spacecraft, which have traveled further from the sun (more than 14 billion miles and counting) than any human-made object.

“What we see here specifically is a certain mechanism whereby when the shock wave first contacts the interstellar magnetic field lines passing through the spacecraft, it reflects and accelerates some of the cosmic ray electrons,” says Don Gurnett, professor emeritus in physics and astronomy at Iowa and the study’s corresponding author. “We have identified through the cosmic ray instruments these are electrons that were reflected and accelerated by interstellar shocks propagating outward from energetic solar events at the sun. That is a new mechanism.”

The discovery could help physicists better understand the dynamics underpinning shock waves and cosmic radiation that come from flare stars (which can vary in brightness briefly due to violent activity on their surface) and exploding stars. The physics of such phenomena would be important to consider when sending astronauts on extended lunar or Martian excursions, for instance, during which they would be exposed to concentrations of cosmic rays far exceeding what we experience on Earth.

The physicists believe these electrons in the interstellar medium are reflected off of a strengthened magnetic field at the edge of the shock wave and subsequently accelerated by the motion of the shock wave. The reflected electrons then spiral along interstellar magnetic field lines, gaining speed as the distance between them and the shock increases.

In a 2014 paper in the journal Astrophysical Letters, physicists J.R. Jokipii and Jozsef

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Watch the Moon Landing of China’s Chang’e-5 Spacecraft

China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface. Racing across a landscape sprinkled with craters on Tuesday, the camera pauses momentarily before a breathtaking fall begins. An instant later, a splash of moon dust and a shadow of the lander signaled that the probe’s touchdown was a success.

“Very precise and exciting landing, right in the middle of the most important geologic unit in the broader Chang’e 5 candidate landing region,” James W. Head III, a geological science professor at Brown University, said in an email. Dr. Head collaborated with Chinese scientists on where the mission should go to gather rocks and soil to bring back to Earth.

The lander set down, as planned, in a region of the moon known as Mons Rümker, at 10:11 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. The spacecraft is in the middle of a basalt lava plain that is about two billion years younger than the parts of the moon explored more than four decades ago by NASA’s Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna landers.

Within hours of arriving on the moon, Chang’e-5 set about drilling and scooping its lunar samples.

Images from Chang’e-5 show a desolate landscape with gentle rolling hills. A dearth of nearby craters points to the area’s youth.

Scientists are curious how this region remained molten far longer than the rest of the moon. Examination of these rocks in laboratories on Earth will also pin down their exact age, and that will calibrate a method that planetary scientists use to determine the ages of the surfaces of planets, moons and other bodies throughout the solar system.

The lander has already completed its drilling and stored the sample. It continues scooping up some soil around the spacecraft. Once that is complete, the top of half of the lander will blast back off into space as soon as Thursday. That will be the start of a complex sequence to return the rocks to Earth.

After it arrived in lunar orbit over the weekend, Chang’e-5 split into two. While the lander headed for the surface, the other half remained in orbit.

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Watch China spacecraft land on the moon in this amazing video

A spectacular video from China’s Chang’e 5 lander spacecraft revealsits successful touchdown on the moon as it  softly set down to collect the first lunar samples in 44 years.



China's Chang'e 5 moon lander captures these views of its descent to the lunar surface on Dec. 1, 2020.


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China’s Chang’e 5 moon lander captures these views of its descent to the lunar surface on Dec. 1, 2020.

The 49-second, sped-up video was captured by a camera underneath the Chang’e 5 lander as it passed over the vast Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) while aiming for a safe landing site on Tuesday  (Dec. 1). The black-and-white footage shows peaks on the horizon before the spacecraft moves into a vertical position to begin its powered descent onto the surface. Another video, released by China’s CCTV news network, shows Chang’e 5’s sample-collection arm drilling into the lunar surface as it collected samples. (We combined them into one in the video above.)

In pictures: China on the moon! A history of Chinese lunar missions 

In the descent video, craters of all sizes appear and disappear as the lander slows its fall. With all of this taking place around 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) away and signals taking two seconds to travel from the Earth and back, the process needed to be automated. 

Chang’e 5 used a gamma ray altimeter to gauge the distance to the surface and optical and laser systems to detect potential hazards. The lander appears to hover as it selects its landing site and makes it final descent.

Related: The latest news about China’s space program 

The spacecraft launched on Nov. 23 and finally touched down safely Tuesday at 10:11 a.m. EST (1511GMT, 11:11 p.m. Beijing Time) near Mons Rümker, a volcanic peak. However the landing is only one part of a very challenging mission which aims to deliver the first fresh lunar samples to Earth since the 1970s.

The spacecraft began collecting samples within a couple of hours of landing, both scooping from the surface and drilling into the lunar regolith to obtain scientifically precious material.

 An ascent vehicle will launch the valuable cargo back into lunar orbit on Thursday in preparation to dock with the waiting Chang’e 5 orbiter. The orbiter will then carry the samples back towards Earth, releasing a reentry capsule that will enter the atmosphere and land around Dec.16.  

 If all goes well scientists will have the first new lunar samples in decades which potentially could be billions of years younger than those collected previously by Apollo and Soviet Luna missions.

The samples could help scientists understand why this area of the moon may have been geologically active long after volcanism in most other parts of the moon had ended.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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China spacecraft collects moon samples to take back to Earth

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese spacecraft took samples of the moon’s surface Wednesday as part of a mission to bring lunar rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government said, adding to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program.



In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a screen shows the landed Chang'e-5 spacecraft and a moon surface picture, below, taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft during its landing process, at Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a screen shows the landed Chang’e-5 spacecraft and a moon surface picture, below, taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft during its landing process, at Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)



In this image taken by camera aboard Chang'e 5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration, its shadow is reflected on the surface of the moon during its landing process on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this image taken by camera aboard Chang’e 5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration, its shadow is reflected on the surface of the moon during its landing process on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)

The Chang’e 5 probe touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side after descending from an orbiter, the China National Space Administration said. It released images of the barren landing site showing the lander’s shadow.

“Chang’e has collected moon samples,” the agency said in a statement.

The probe, launched Nov. 24 from the tropical island of Hainan, is the latest venture by a space program that sent China’s first astronaut into orbit in 2003. Beijing also has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

This week’s landing is “a historic step in China’s cooperation with the international community in the peaceful use of outer space,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

“China will continue to promote international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind,” Hua said.

Plans call for the lander to spend two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris. The top stage of the probe will be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule to take back to Earth, where it is to land in China’s northern grasslands in mid-December.



This image taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface during its landing process Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
This image taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface during its landing process Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976.

The

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China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft successfully lands on the moon to retrieve lunar rocks and soil

Chinese state media reported Tuesday that the probe “successfully landed” at its targeted site, an area called Oceanus Procellarum. China did not immediately announce any other details about the landing.

On the lunar surface, the probe is expected to dig about seven feet deep, collecting as much as 4.5 pounds of rocks and lunar soil into the ascent vehicle, which would then meet up with the service capsule in lunar orbit and return to Earth.

Once the material is back on Earth, scientists would be able to calculate its age and examine it to determine its composition.

On Twitter, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate, congratulated China. “This is no easy task,” he wrote. “When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community.”

As part of its lunar exploration mission, NASA has been working to get countries around the world to adopt what it calls the Artemis Accords, a legal framework that would govern behavior in space and on celestial bodies such as the moon. The accords are named for NASA’s current lunar program, Artemis.

The rules would allow private companies to extract lunar resources and create safety zones to prevent conflict and ensure that countries act transparently about their plans in space, while sharing their scientific discoveries.

Several countries have signed on to the bilateral agreements, which NASA says builds on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. But NASA is essentially prohibited from partnering with China in space activities, and China is not among the signatories.

The Trump administration and conservatives have cast China’s ambitions as setting up a power struggle in space. During a speech last year, Vice President Pence directed NASA to dramatically speed up its mission to return astronauts to the moon, initially planned for 2028 but now aiming for 2024. Pence described a new space race reminiscent of the Cold War drive to the moon under the Apollo program.

“Make no mistake about it: We’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher,” he said in the speech. China’s landing on the far side of the moon, he said, “revealed their ambition to seize the strategic high ground and become the world’s preeminent space-faring nation.”

The incoming Biden administration has said little publicly about its plans for NASA and space exploration, but several Democrats have said it plans to keep the Artemis mission, though on a timeline they said was more realistic.

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China lands spacecraft on the moon for the third time, another sign of its ambitions in space

China landed a spacecraft on the moon Tuesday whose mission is to mine rocks and soil and return them to Earth, another in a series of lunar missions that demonstrates the country’s emergence as a force in space exploration.



a train on a track with smoke coming out of it: A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang'e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, Nov. 24, 2020.


© Mark Schiefelbein/AP
A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang’e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan Province, Nov. 24, 2020.

The landing without a crew on board was China’s third on the lunar surface since 2013 and came almost two years after China pulled off a historic first — landing a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. And it comes as NASA is gearing up to send a series of scientific missions, and astronauts, to the lunar surface.

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If China’s Chang’e-5 mission succeeds, it would mark the first time a nation has retrieved samples from the moon since the U.S. and Soviet Union did it several decades ago. The mission, which includes a lander, an ascent vehicle, a service capsule and a return capsule, was launched Nov. 23 on China’s powerful Long March 5 rocket.

Chinese state media reported Tuesday that the probe “successfully landed” at its landing site, an area called Oceanus Procellarum. China didn’t immediately announce any other details about the landing.

On the lunar surface, the probe is expected to dig some seven feet deep, collecting as much as 4.5 pounds of rocks and lunar soil into the ascent vehicle, which would then meet up with the service capsule in lunar orbit and return to Earth.

Once the material is back on Earth, scientists would be able to calculate its age and examine it to determine its composition.

On Twitter, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate congratulated China. “This is no easy task,” he wrote. “When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community.”

As part of its lunar exploration mission, NASA has been working to get countries around the world to adopt what it calls the “Artemis Accords,” a legal framework that would govern behavior in space and on celestial bodies like the moon. The accords are named for NASA’s current lunar program, Artemis.

The rules would allow private companies to extract lunar resources, create safety zones to prevent conflict and to ensure that countries act transparently about their plans in space, while sharing their scientific discoveries.

So far, several countries have signed on to the bilateral agreements, which NASA says builds on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. But NASA is essentially prohibited from partnering with China in space activities and China is not among the signatories.

The Trump administration and conservatives have cast China’s ambitions as setting up a power struggle in space. During a speech last year, Vice President Pence directed NASA to dramatically speed up its mission to return astronauts to the

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China spacecraft lands on moon to bring rocks back to Earth

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced.

The Chang’e 5 probe “successfully landed” at its planned site, state TV and news agencies reported, citing the China National Space Administration. They didn’t immediately announce any more details.

The lander was launched Nov. 24 from the tropical southern island of Hainan. It is the latest venture by a Chinese space program that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.


Plans call for the lander to spend about two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris. The sample will be lifted up into orbit and transferred to a return capsule for the trip to Earth.

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since a Soviet probe in the 1970s.

U.S. astronauts with NASA’s Apollo space program brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples from 1969 to 1972.

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored far side.

The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission.

China’s space program has proceeded more cautiously than the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States. It also launched a crewed space station.

Chinese space officials have said they hope eventually to land a human on the moon, but no time line or other details have been announced.

China, along with neighbors Japan and India, also has joined the growing race to explore Mars. The Tianwen 1 probe launched in July is on its way to the red planet carrying a lander and a rover to search for water.

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China Successfully Lands Spacecraft on Moon to Retrieve Lunar Rocks | World News

BEIJING (Reuters) – China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface on Tuesday in a historic mission to retrieve lunar surface samples, Chinese state media reported.

China launched its Chang’e-5 probe on Nov. 24. The uncrewed mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins.

The mission will attempt to collect 2 kg (4-1/2 lbs) of samples in a previously unvisited area in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms”.

If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.

The lander vehicle that touched down on the moon’s surface was one of several spacecraft deployed by the Chang’e-5 probe.

Upon landing, the lander vehicle is supposed to drill into the ground with a robotic arm, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender vehicle that would lift off and dock with an orbiting module.

State broadcaster CCTV said it would start collecting samples on the lunar surface in the next two days. The samples would be transferred to a return capsule for the trip back to Earth, landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu and Tom Daly; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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